Fiction is imaginary writing, which, at school, most often takes the form of the short story or the novel–both of which are forms of narrative. The word narrative is the technical term for a story told from a particular viewpoint that is built around a climax of action and which tells of a main character called a protagonist. Another important feature of narrative is its structure. It has a ‘ beginning-middle-end’ in which each event is linked by a ‘ cause and effect’ relationship.
Elements of Fiction: Words you need to know to understand fiction.
Story: The two most common kinds of story are “plot-driven” and “character-driven.”
1) In a “plot-driven” story, the plot (the sequence of events) is the most important part of the story. An example of this kind of story is a mystery novel. Why, how, and when a crime happened is the focus of the story. Characters are not so important; they don’t change or grow. Another kind might be an Aesop’s Fable, where the characters only exist to show a truth.
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2) In a “character-driven” story, the main reason for the story is to show how a person can grow or change by being in a particular situation. For example, in a daytime drama, or soap opera, the people in the story and their feelings are the focus of the story. Also, the character may just sit in a room, yet because of some circumstance, their outlook on life may change.
Action or Plot: The chronological sequence of events. Events usually follow this pattern:
1) exposition-description of place, characters, and relationships
2) complication, or conflict-a problem that complicates a situation
3) crisis-the situation becomes more tense
4) climax-the highest tension in the story
5) falling action— or the begging of the end
6) resolution-what happens at the end of the story
Character: the people or animals in a story. There are two basic kinds of characters:
1) The flat, or static, character is a character that doesn’t change or grow during the sequence of events. These characters show only one side of the human experience. They are sometimes stereotypes, like the loving husband, the evil serial killer, or the innocent child.
2. The round, or developing, character is a character that grows or changes during the action of the story. The writer explains more about the characters and why they behave as they do, and they are not usually one-sided or stereotypical.
Point of View: whoever is telling the story has a point of view. There are three common viewpoints:
1) Omniscient-an observer that knows everything that is going on and everything the characters think and believe
2) Third person-one single character who knows some of the action and some of the characters’ thoughts
3) First person-the story is told as though spoken by one character. The narrator only knows what he or she can observe or think
Setting: the place and time the action of the story is set. A story can be set in modern New York City or in ancient Rome in the time of Julius Cesar.
Atmosphere: the emotion or mood that is in the story. It can be frightening, happy, sad, or any other emotion.
Tone: the mood of the writer, his attitude towards the action and the characters. Some writers seem to be sympathetic to the characters and situations, but other writers don’t seem very kind.
Language: the choices of words and rhythm and sentence structure. The good writer selects his or her words so carefully to make them give exact meanings and emotions.
Theme: the meaning behind the story. A good writer tries to broaden our understanding of life and people in this world.
My Favorite Shirt
M. Stanley Bubien
“No!” my daughter whined. “I don’t want to!”
“C’mon Victoria,” I crooned with arms outstretched, “just one hug.”
“No!” she said, and shook her head wildly.
I knew it was a phase, but it still hurt. She used to hug me. I guess I took that for granted, never thinking it would stop—my only real intimacy with her.
“Maybe she doesn’t feel good,” my wife offered.
I shook my head, more irritated than comforted.
The next morning I was awakened with the announcement, “Victoria threw up in her bed.” We both knew who was going to stay home—my wife had an early meeting.
Even if she refused to hug me, I still enjoyed being with my daughter. I spent the morning reading her stories, listening to the stereo, and flipping through a picture book while she played with dolls. Around noon, she became antsy.
“Daddy, my stomach hurts,” she finally said.
I picked her up. When her head touched my shirt, I heard a horrible retching. Turning to the side, I saw yellow ooze rolling off my shoulder. Hustling into the bathroom, I leaned over the counter as Victoria threw up again. This time, I let it roll down my sleeve and into the sink.
“It’s okay, honey. I have you,” I whispered, swallowing against tears of my own.
“I wrecked your shirt, Daddy,” Victoria sniffed.
“Oh, it’ll wash off,” I told her. She barfed again.
But I was wrong. I still wore the shirt for years afterward but the stain never came out
“The Appointment in Samarra”
(as retold by W. Somerset Maugham )
There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.
The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace, he saw me standing in the crowd, and he came to me and said, why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
Worksheet on Elements of Fiction
This worksheet covers the information in the study sheet, Elements of Fiction.
Part One – Matching – Draw a line from Column One to Column Two
Column One Column Two
1. Themes A. Where the story takes place
2. Characters B. Structure of the story
3. Settings C. First and Third Person
4. Plots D. Main idea of the story
5. Point of View E. People in the story
Part Two – True or False – Write True or False in the blanks.
1. Characters cannot be animals. ___________
2. Writers use only first person to tell their stories. ___________
3. Characters do not change in plot-driven stories. ___________
4. Plots do not reveal a character’s background information. __________________
5. Themes reveal why writers write their stories. _____________
Part Three – Fill in the Blanks
1. A _________________ is a specific message writers want to reveal to readers.
2. A _________________ reveals the location of the story.
3. In a _____________________ story, the character changes.
4. In a _______________________ story, the character doesn’t change.
5. Plots reveal information about _____________________.
Story Report Plan
You have read your book. Your next step will be to organize what you are going to say about it in your report. Writing the basic elements down in an outline format will help you to organize your thoughts.What will you include in the outline? Follow whatever instructions your teacher has given you. If you are on your own, however, the following guidelines should help.
Let’s assume for the moment that you’ve chosen a work of fiction. We’ll start with a description of the book. The description should include such elements as:
The setting-where does the story take place? Is it a real place or an imaginary one? If the author does not tell you exactly where the story is set, what can you tell about it from the way it is described?
The time period-is the story set in the present day or in an earlier time period? Perhaps it is even set in the future! Let your reader know.
The main character(s)-who is the story mostly about? Give a brief description. Often, one character can be singled out as the main character, but some books will have more than one.
The plot-what happens to the main character? WARNING! Be careful here. Do not fall into the boring trap of reporting every single thing that happens in the story. Pick only the most important events. Here are some hints on how to do that. First, explain the situation of the main character as the story opens. Next, identify the basic plot element of the story–is the main character trying to achieve something or overcome a particular problem? Thirdly, describe a few of the more important things that happen to the main character as he/she works toward that goal or solution. Finally, you might hint at the story’s conclusion without completely giving away the ending.
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The four points above deal with the report aspect of your work. For the final section of your outline, give your reader a sense of the impression the book made upon you. Ask yourself what the author was trying to achieve and whether or not he achieved it with you. What larger idea does the story illustrate? How does it do that? How did you feel about the author’s style of writing, the setting, or the mood of the novel. You do not have to limit yourself to these areas. Pick something which caught your attention, and let your reader know your personal response to whatever it was.
What about non-fiction?
If given the option, you might have chosen a non-fiction biography, history, or a factual text on another subject of interest to you. In that case, the descriptive section of your report should include:
subject-an initial statement on the general subject of the book.
summary-your summary of what the author had to say about the subject. Again, pick only the most important points to discuss. For a biography, describe some of the key events in the person’s life. For a history or other subject, describe some of the main points made about the subject. If the book is divided into different chapters, you can often use those divisions as a guide to what the main points are.
After you’ve described your book, express some of your thoughts about what you’ve read. What seemed to be the author’s main reason for writing the book? What was the most interesting thing you learned about the book’s subject? Why did you find it interesting? You might also give your opinion on how the subject was presented. Did the author hold your interest?
Remember! Whether you are writing about fiction or non-fiction you must be sure to recognize the main idea or ideas in the book. So be sure that you have a good understanding of it before you begin writing. Keep the book beside you while you are writing your report so that you can refer to it when necessary.
Story Report Outline
Introduction to the story.
What is the title?
Author’s name and any thing important about him or her.
Setting–when and where does the story take place?
The major characters.
What or who are the characters in conflict with?
Summary of the events in the story.
How the story begins
What happens after that
How it ends
Analysis of the story.
What did you like? Were there . . . .
Characters you sympathized with?
What happened was interesting?
Conflict that moved you?
What didn’t you like? Were there. . . .
Characters you didn’t care for?
What happened bored you?
Conflict confused you?
Something you didn’t understand?
Recommendations to other readers.
Would you recommend this story to another?
Why or why wouldn’t you recommend the story?
What kind of readers would like this story?
Did you learn anything from the story?
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